Archive | February, 2010

Conversations About Books – 2: Writers

25 Feb

“Life is a story. Some lived. Some heard” he said as they sat at the café over-looking the street below. “People normally expect something in return when they make an effort towards anything new, books, people; conversations anything but stories are expected to offer a little more.”

“What do you mean by that” She asked

“Let’s look at stories; it can be read to offer entertainment, new thoughts or arguments, imagination, a majority of people seek linear structures with conclusive ends, culmination of not just a story but also their effort.” He explained as he looked around to order some more beer “Some more for you” He asked


“Authors eventually get slotted into effort, half the world that reads Salman Rushdie doesn’t even understand what he is writing yet it is not an effort towards snobbery, “I read Rushdie” kind of a statement, from him even before you start you expect certain profoundness and complexity in his writing, it’s the thrill of unraveling his structure that attracts some readers, with certain authors you expect effort but therein lies their appeal, be it Marquez or Pamuk or Mahfouz or Kafka, these authors never make it easy for you. There are layers, depth, subtleness which require you to be attentive, they are constantly assessing and testing your involvement, they want to pull you in the story and show you the minor details, you should be able to hear the dripping tap in the kitchen as you hear the characters argue in the drawing room, the background is as important as the foreground. But then there are authors who are about the story, not that they are any less skilled but their art is of different kind” He stopped suddenly mid-sentence, running out of steam and for a second lost his assuredness as he looked at her.

He looked at her; she seemed to be listening to whatever he seemed to be saying, which he wasn’t sure, was making sense even to him. But he let the Lord Bacchus take control of the situation and despite the protests from the reluctant tongue, it was whipped back into action “James Headley Chase or Chandler, even our own Chetan Bhagat are like leisure travel, covering the distance, seeing not soaking, it’s the narrative that takes precedence over language, the closest parallel to that form is popular cinema, your senses get heightened, next takes precedence over now, what is going to happen, a state of anxiousness, as an author they are able to build tension and stress, such structures are normally far more linear than writing of authors we discussed earlier. Whereas their form is to internalize the experience for the reader, for lack of better word, the entertaining writers offer a voyeuristic experience, there is a perverse joy, peeping-tom kind of experience, and reading naturally is more hurried. What next? How would it end? If you have a disappointing experience with such a book natural comment is pace is not there while with a Rushdie or a Marquez one might say depth was missing. Even as a reader your expectations are different.”

She turned the cold glass in her hand for some time, looked up and asked “So you are saying you can divide writers in these two broad classes, ideas and entertainment writers?”

He stopped, thought for a second and said “This is not a treatise on writing, this is purely my relationship with the books and I am no expert. I am a reader, an individual who has his own perspective on books. Let me explain another of my quirks on books, you have purely idea or imagination books, wherein a new world is created, Orhan Pamuk spoke about it in his Nobel Prize speech, entering a new world, and there are also books which pick up known or unknown fact and either place a fictional character there or fictionalize that fact to an extent. I consider purely imagination books as real effort, a superior writing, and books that take cue from reality as lazy books, understand lazy, it’s not about their entertainment value or depth of knowledge or depth of ideas, just those books maybe are far easier to write, a major part of those books is rewriting history not in a textbook manner but in a story manner but all those facts already have been written by someone else, a writer has picked that, researched as someone would say and rewritten it without creating anything new. I don’t confuse physical effort of research with the mental effort, stories are leaps of imagination”

“Now wait a minute” She said “There is a basic flaw in your logic, doesn’t everything come from history, you are assuming there is one kind of history, the known history but there is an unknown history or history that resides with the individual. Ideas come from somewhere, largely from experience, if I were to write a story, and I take cues from my life, my emotions, and my knowledge, to others it might look like a leap of imagination but I have used a part of my history that already existed to give an impression of something new. Eventually any which way you look a writer has to pick up as a starting point something that already exists to create new. Asimov’s science fiction about parallel universes or time travel has foundations in research which though theoretical have been given manifestations as a future that exists but the basis still is an existing imagination or history whatever you might like to call it. So there is nothing that comes from nothing, there is always something to something, algorithms; definite starting points leading to a definite end, even if the middle and the end is imagined but the starting is grounded in reality.”

Next sip she took was of pure satisfaction, a sip of a victor who had just annihilated the enemy territory, slaughtering what existed before to stamp her authority.  

“Agreed. But you have missed the argument to an extent. Of course nothing comes from isolation. But the book that you would write does not exist beyond your mind. There is no reference you can use except the neuro-chemical linkages that reside in your mind, those are metaphysical, assumed to exist but only in your mind, in reality it has no basis, no manifestation.” He argued “If written it would be a new story. I agree with you that starting comes from somewhere, only from the existing non-existing future can be created and that’s the point I am trying to convey, for me act of creation is more important and re-organizing the existing differently”

“But, my dear friend, when you reorganize the pieces on an on-going chess game you have created a new game.” She said slyly

“I understand your point; I think I’m unable to put my thoughts across cohesively. It would be interesting to read if you assume Hitler was a good person and Churchill the evil one and view the war of ideology of WWII from the opposite end, flip the logic. It would be an interesting perspective to consider, as they say history is always from the victor’s version. But that’s where it stays, a version of non-existing reality, assumed reality, it does nothing in the larger picture, it does not impact the world around us, while even the simplest tale of fiction which takes a leap into non-realm impacts the fabric of reality better. It opens a possibility, which is not about what could have been like version of history if Axis had won but what can be. And I find what can be more engaging.”

“Give an example”

“Take Sherlock Holmes, imaginary character, imaginary case studies yet even with technological advances in solving crime as a story readers still find it engaging read for a very simple reason, it is about human mind and it’s about deduction, a way of looking at things. Logical and scientific approach towards solving the mysteries, any mystery. The thought can change people, can change the future, can you imagine the impact of a fictional character changing the basic human thought process and their actions, which would change everything that will come.” He said, now animated and excited with his own flow.

She laughed and said “You must be kidding me, I was thinking you will give me examples of Plato or Descartes or some other heavy weight, you pick up murder mystery sleuth to support your argument. Tell me where does, say Mahabharata from the view of Duryodhana or Draupadi or Bheema fit into your logic, that also is recreation of existing history”      

He stayed quiet for some time, mulling over what she said, then he answered “You think it’s a trick question but really it is not. You need to view Mahabharata not as history but an argument and what we read is an argument from a perspective, and we learn a part of the perspective, while in reality the book can offer various views, various arguments and disparate motivations. The book is about way of life, it truly is about human frailty, human imperfections yet at the same time uniqueness of each individual life. It is as much a study of character as it is about way of life. That’s a reason the book can mean different things to different people. So when someone presents the story from other character’s view you really are reading a different story and it is a new story. Yet it is different from Hitler example, because Hitler story is more about what if, and that what if will never happen, while in Mahabharata case it is about why and how. Draupadi’s motivations were different from that of Arjun or any other character, and in each of these whys we will find interesting answers, which can challenge, rebut or strengthen, even teach the reader something new.”

“Hmmm…. I still think there is a flaw in your argument but can’t pin-point it.”

“Let’s leave it for some other day”

Conversations About Books 1 – Words

25 Feb

“You every time hog all the conversation. Today I want to start a conversation, you can participate, of course you need to participate else it would be a discourse, a monologue which is not the same thing as a conversation.” She said as she sat down in her usual place

She gestured towards the waiter; they didn’t even now need to place an order. Waiter knew their favorite brand of beer. Soon the beer was placed in front of her, she took a gulp and continued “A friend of mine, now don’t ask who, we are not having that kind of conversation today, once said, conversation is a state of inequality.”

“That’s true, conversation is flow from two sides trying to reach a state of equilibrium, and best relationships are where the stage is never achieved. The day such a state is achieved it is end of relationship. Is this what we are discussing today?” he asked

“No, not really, it is more about lack of conversation or misunderstood communications.” She said and continued “Some writers are termed as difficult, abstract, and abstruse. This complexity is blamed on their language that they don’t employ everyday language, they are deliberately difficult, and they are branded show-offs just for their choice of words to express themselves, brushed aside egoist streaks. Now that’s a philistine attitude”


 “Don’t mock and hear me out, else I will lose on my flow” She said a little peeved.

Then she turned and glared at the waiter for slow service and still missing next beer bottle. In the next fraction it was there, she took a sip, paused to gather her thoughts and continued “When we read a scientific article, not that many of us make that effort, but if we do in those moments of insanity and cannot understand an iota of it we simply shrug our shoulders and say we are not trained to understand this. It is acceptable because it is not considered an abstract concept but a lack of knowledge on part of the reader. People accept knowledge has to be acquired which comes from training, diligence, that it takes effort, toiling sometimes for years, to be able to comprehend the complexity of such an idea. But language people tend to dismiss, rather take it for granted. They take comfort in their mediocrity and mock at what they don’t know. Even within their limitation they assume a stance of an expert, anything beyond is considered redundant and unnecessary. Their own personal limitation becomes a limit within which writer should be confined. They at no point see the vastness of choices to express a thought or necessity of those words, the beauty of language that gives ideas wings and the limitlessness of language to create new thoughts, new ideas, which form with the formation of that word. Each word that exists is an idea and in it is hidden infinite other ideas. People make no effort with language and fault the writer and his effort rather than themselves. World can be understood with only words and with the right choice of words, any other word would contaminate the idea or rather become something else, something different. Writer never chooses a word when he could have employed another, simpler or better, either way you see, to say his idea. Idea selects its own words, those and none other. Words are selected consciously and deliberately to form that idea, as the thought formulated in mind and finally expressed on paper. If the reader is unable to comprehend the thought, the fault lies within and within his limitation not with the writer” She hurried through the last few words, she could sense his restlessness               

“We have quite a state of inequality here, today would be without doubt a day of conversation” He said “Though in your powerful emotional discourse and the argument initially does sounds irrefutable; yet it still has some scope for argument. For me the starting point would be to try to answer a simple question, do words give strength to the idea or idea gives strength to the words?”

“Obviously words give strength to the idea, without the right words idea will never take any shape. Whether it is seen as a brilliant idea or relegated to the dustbin of history would be decided with words” She said

“But you would agree words something make even mediocre or sometimes evil ideas credible. Hitler and his anti-Semitic ideas almost destroyed the world. The world we see today has its roots in those words” He asked

“Now you are mixing two different aspects, ideas with emotions. Sometimes words ignite certain primitive emotions, but an emotional outburst or reaction does not take away the mediocrity of the idea or lack of emotional response does not mean idea lacks resonance”

“Are you not contradicting yourself? You said if the idea doesn’t resonate, weakness lies in choice of words. Idea cannot survive in isolation for it to take wings it must reach its audience, which is from words, its destiny depends on its presentation not just its existence. If its existence was enough than words are immaterial, idea is enough but in your opinion that is not enough” he asked her, in a voice which was equally mocking and challenging

She smiled “As I had thought, you would miss the crux of the argument and feed yourself on the crumbs. Why do you get satisfied with the edges, just because they seem attractive doesn’t mean that’s all that exists on the plate? Crumbs are not all that the bread offers. I shall try to simplify the argument for your sake, idea can be expressed only with a certain set of words, idea selects its words to demystify itself and manifest itself, choose a wrong set and idea loses its vitality. It’s not an argument that ideas should be presented in a manner which makes it difficult to comprehend but ideas which are presented in that language, with those set of words needed those words and those words only and none other could have expressed that idea. People need to equip themselves better to understand the idea, rather than rubbishing an idea because of the way it has been expressed makes it difficult for them to comprehend. Understood now?”

“Not really. Though I believe I have somehow been insulted, I shall let my ego take control and I would go for hara-kiri before I accept defeat.” He said trying to present a brave front, though shaken a little “I am assuming argument is not restricted to just literary work but any form of idea, so when a new technology or medical invention/discovery is made, what gives it more credence, the benefit like new cancer drug or its scientific literature”

“Chee, you want me to answer that? Obviously both depending on the audience but right words for the right audience will make it relevant. It still is about only an appropriate set of words” She said with a triumphant smile, followed with a big gulp to finish her bottle.

“Humbled, my dear lady”

“2 more bottles, these are on me”

Mind Gobblers – 20

25 Feb

Is good the new bad?